I am now half way through with my 5th week of radiation. All is still going well although I can really feel it now. I am totally red on the left side of my chest. It feels like a sunburn and is most uncomfortable under my arm. Sometimes I catch myself walking with my left arm sticking out funny to prevent the friction of skin on skin in my armpit. The doctor said I had 5 more treatments in that area but they are going to postpone them a few days to give that area some time to recover. They have been treating the clavical area of lymph nodes below my neck as well. Starting tomorrow they will also be concentrating the radiation on my masectomy scar. I have 10 more treatments to go. I can no longer wear a bra because of the discomfort.
I remain in a state of menopause. The doctor said I may not know for 6 months whether this will be permanent or not. The past month I have noticed lots of fuzzy hair all over my face. It is even all over my nose. A couple people have commented on it. Randy and I joke that I'm so hairy "the moon must be full" like I'm a werewolf or something. We just laugh about it. I suppose this is due to the drop in hormones. After months of no hair it seems a little bizarre.
Yesterday I saw an interview with Michael J. Fox on Oprah. He was talking about Parkinson's Disease and how it makes him constantly shake. He said after his diagnosis that "Vanity was the first thing to go" and that now he doesn't care so much about what he looks like or how people perceive his physical appearance. I find myself now trotting daily through UT hospital with my very short hair, an uneven chest, fuzzy face and false eyelashes (that have been known to pop off unexpectedly from time to time) without much thought about my appearance. I have laid on the radiation table so many times now with my chest scars exposed that I don't flinch at all when three technicians stand over me lining up the crosshairs for my daily radiation treatment. It has all become a strange sort of routine. It is a bit freeing really.
That's not to say though that it doesn't bother me at all. I see people look at me differently sometimes. I've had several women just come up to me recently and start talking about how they are survivors too. They don't even ask if I have breast cancer. I guess they just know it on sight. One time I even had one woman start showing me her masectomy scar in the middle of a retail store. It guess those scars can be a strange source of pride, really. Like a soldier showing his battle wounds it means you are a survivor in the truest sense of the word. I am fortunate that the scars from my breast cancer are temporary. The shakiness from Parkinsons is not. The lesson learned however is the same. I knew I was not defined by my physical appearance, but sometimes (with so much of my life revolving around my treatments) cancer starts seeming like that is my life. You're poked, prodded, stuck with needles and people stare at your scars all the time. Cancer is very humbling and none of it (except your attitude) can you control. We are not defined by our adversity though. We are so much more.
Last week I saw my Internist. He said in 35 years of family practice he had never seen a cancer like mine. At first I was left to wonder if this was a compliment (reminiscent of the remark of how I was "perfect" for chemo). According to the pathology report my sentinel lymph node was the only one with any sign of cancer and singlehandely soaked it all up by itself. (Way to go Sponge Bob!)He said if it hadn't been for my dislocated shoulder and the size of that gygantor lymph node that we may not have discovered the cancer. I had always thought of the shoulder accident as a "red herring" that kept me from diagnosing the cancer sooner.
So I guess it's just all in how you look at things. Vanity is indeed the first thing to go. And what's left is a new sort of self assurance, a new sort of self worth that confirms that who you are is so much more than what people perceive you are or any hardship you are going through. Michael J. Fox put it this way. He is much more than Parkinsons but Parkinson disease has helped define him. It has brought new people into his life and caused him to make new choices that he otherwise never would have made.
I Corinthians 2:7 says "...we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.'"
No matter what stumbling blocks we may be facing big or small, God sees the big picture. He sees the true essence of who we are and where we all fall in His master plan. Doesn't it do your heart good to know that? Lots of love,